Free Trade, Mehmed VI, James Mason, and More


If there’s one thing that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can agree on, it’s that they don’t like free trade. Our publisher Richard Hurowitz explains why they are both dead wrong.


Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red is set in 1591, a time when the Ottomans had not even begun their famous siege of Vienna yet. Suleiman the Magnificent has died — and so has his son — but now the expansive territorial gains of the kingdom are in the hands of the slightly sedentary grandson, Murad III (he was also the second Ottoman sultan after his father to never go on campaign during his reign, choosing to instead stay in Istanbul the entire time, until he became notorious for even refusing to leave his palace.)

So, perhaps, we should get the sense entering the book that as the real political golden age of the Ottoman Empire simmers we can enjoy some less grand but nonetheless riveting cultural reflection. This is the story of miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire — a Turkish miniature is a small painting, usually small enough to fit inside of a book — and, switching from new narrator to new narrator, the book’s metafiction deserves a dutiful reading for its thoughtfulness, if not its ability to peel away at the dark disorder of the Ottoman court and the complex cultural legacy of an astonishing land that has undergone more than one extreme shift over the past two millennia. Is there still something to be said of the Ottomans, even after Atatürk endangered six hundred years of history; will there be something to say about Turkey once Erdogan is through? “I don’t want to be a tree,” writes Pamuk. “I want to be its meaning.”


All the same, meaning didn’t count for much by the time World War II rolled around and Turkey became little more than a neutral spot for agents of the allies and the axis to butt heads over intrigue. Real life Elyesa Bazna, code name Cicero, spied on behalf of Nazi Germany during World War II while posing as a valet for the British ambassador to Turkey — he was never truly charged for his a actions after the war, but nevertheless ended up dying fairly ignominiously in Munich.

Five Fingers, a thrilling American spy film released in 1952, is not only set in Istanbul but, insofar as we might expect there to be a bit of melodrama here and there, dives into the moral implications of “Cicero” and his career as a spy. The stakes and the tension of the movie could not be better done; Diello, the name of “Cicero” in the movie, is out to profit off the larger military machines at work in the last throes of the war on the European front. We won’t spoil too much, but if there is one thing the movie makes clear, it is this: spies may be good at deception — and, to some extent, avoiding deception — but even the best moles have a bad habit of buying into their own illusions.

ON THIS DAY IN 1922 . . .

They had been the scourge of Christendom, the greatest power in the Muslim world and, ultimately, a poor fit for the military and administrative reforms most of western Europe underwent at the tail end of the 19th century — because, by 1922, The Ottoman Empire just about had it. And on this day in history November 1, 1922, a new breed of Turkish government took hold that still has implications in the world of Erdogan today. The Grand National Assembly abolished the Sultanate and expelled Mehmed VI, the last Sultan, from Istanbul. Mehmed ended up retiring to the Italian Riviera, not a bad fate for a persona non grata who led his country through an awfully unsuccessful war and conceded so much in the Treaty of Sèvres that nationalists rose up and prolonged fighting in the Middle East between Turks and Europeans for two years (not to mention that the end of the Treaty of Sèvres meant the deletion of what could have been a somewhat free Kurdish state all those many years ago).

This event also, of course, gave us in full color the ruler Mustafa Kemal or, as most know him, Atatürk — “Father of the Turks.” His new republic not only focused on Turkification but pursued an extreme degree of secularism; Islamic institutions were abolished, women emancipated and western practices introduced all around. Erdogan might want to take a few lessons from Dad.